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Nestles reunion: 1,321 years of service
Some 1,320 years of service from former Nestle employees at the shuttered coffee plant in Ripon was represented at a recent reunion at the Fisherman’s Galley in Modesto. - photo by Photo Contributed
Nestles’ Coffee plant is gone from the Ripon landscape – but it’s not forgotten as being a big part of the city’s industrial base.

Nearly 100 former employees and their families gathered at the Fisherman’s Galley in Modesto last week at a dinner hosted by the Nestle Company as they shared memories of times past at the plant.   The workers represented a total 1,321 years of service at the shuttered Ripon facility.

An employee of the firm for some 43 years, Ed Fikse, organized the reunion committee beginning in August, bringing together a team that organized the event with former plant manager Frank Zumstein.  Others included Marilyn Adams, Barbara Segaar, Thys deHoop and Del Otten.

Even Fikse’s daughter, Karen Taylor, who works for Nestle in the outskirts of Denver flew home to be part of the event where she put together bags of Nestle’s provided  goodies that she scattered around the dinner tables.

Fikse remembers his days at the plant well – days that always started for him at about 7 a.m. with the end of the day at about 3:30 p.m.  Retiring in 1993, a year before Nestle closed the facility, he served as a department manager over operations of filling, packaging, shipping and receiving in addition to being the safety director for the company.

Fikse’s effort in telephoning everyone who had been at the last reunion paralleled his activities during his tenure at the plant.  He said the phone contact with the employees from the dinner that was held four years ago confirmed addresses he had as being credible before invitations were mailed out.

In chatting about the reunion with Fikse, it was time to ask a few questions about his colorful community involvement such as being a volunteer firefighter in Ripon.  The station was located just around the corner from Nestlé’s in the downtown area of the city.

‘Hanging on for dear life’
He chuckled remembering he was usually the first one out the door when he heard the city-wide fire siren sound calling volunteers.  Usually being the first one into the station he was there to start up the primary engine and meet the challenges of threading through traffic.

One day when he wasn’t so early left an indelible mark in his mind and on his right shin.  The engine was already idling and the firefighter behind the wheel was starting to ease out of the bay as Fikse was jumping into his boots and turn-out gear in the back of the station.

He said he ran for the rear of the truck, jumping for the rear running board.  His hands clasped over the horizontal bar at the back of the engine but his feet didn’t find their mark on the rear running board – resulting in one sore shin bone.

Fikse added he “was hanging on for dear life”  with only one hand  as the engine made the top of the Second Street overpass – his other hand,  rubbing out the pain in his shin bone.
Everyone drank Nestlé’s coffee at their coffee breaks at the plant and Fikse drinks nothing but at home. “I still drink Tasters’ Choice Freeze Dried Instant,” he chimed.

Another interesting tale came from 1950, the year he graduated from high school.  He had attended Oak Harbor, WA, high school through his junior year.  As a senior he moved to the Bay Area and attended Castlemont High School on old Highway 50 in Oakland.

He just had to make his mark on his old alma mater in Washington after his California graduation.  Fikse and three friends knew just where to leave their  mark in the name of his old school – painting a huge “50” on the top of the city’s water tower.

“It was midnight and darker than pitch” when the four crawled up the ladder to reach the heights of the tower.  They succeeded in making their mark with the “50” standing out for all to see the class had come of age.  He said there was no real fear involved, adding that today he is anxious about heights.

As for the coffee plant operation in Ripon, the production is fresh in Fikse’s mind where coffee liquor was sprayed into a chamber with a fan blowing air at an extremely high temperature that dried the liquid into a powder within a foot of its entry.  The powder would fall into a conveyor-like system at the bottom of a three story plus chamber – then blown into a tank where the product was carried into the filling room.

Dinner prizes were donated by Les Schwab of Escalon, Target, Fisherman’s Galley, Red Lobster, Marcella’s and Elephant Bar of Modesto, Generations Salon & Spa and Frederik’s Nursery.  When the guests departed they were presented a gift by John Sniffen donated by Orchard Valley Harvest.

Most of the guests were from the general vicinity but others traveled from as far away as Arizona, Colorado and Virginia.